A group of five cities in Florida are participating in a pilot program designed to encourage inter-city travel and the use of SunRail stations through subsidies for passengers who utilize ridesharing services through Uber.

The program has just completed its second phase, in which individual agreements between five cities (Altamonte Springs, Lake Mary, Longwood, Maitland and Sanford) and Uber were developed to offer rides at a discounted rate.

Throughout the Phase II pilot, which spanned 10 months, each city paid 20 percent of Uber fares that started in one of the five cities and ended within their respective city limits. Additionally, each city covered 25 percent of the cost of rides that began or ended at the SunRail station inside of their city.

Taxpayer watchdogs have historically been critical of wasteful mass-transit programs that are usually under-utilized, like Tallahassee’s perpetually empty trolley bus. Mass transit programs require millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars, invested up-front, to pay for expensive buses, trains, operators, mechanics, fuel and other costs. And there is no guarantee they’ll be used by taxpayers.

This program only spends taxpayer dollars when the destination city is guaranteed to get some benefit out of it – in this case, a visitor to the community that is likely to increase economic activity by eating or shopping in the area. It’s a targeted program with a guaranteed rate of return. And it’s made possible through the technology that ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft utilize to optimize their driver networks and passenger delivery, making it easy for cities to know when a passenger has been delivered to the community.

“We have been extremely encouraged by the pilots developed in the cities of Altamonte Springs, Lake Mary, Longwood, Maitland and Sanford these last two years,” said Kasra Moshkani, General Manager for Uber in the Southeast. “The success of this program, by offering residents and visitors a future with less congestion, less individual car use, more shared rides, and more multimodal trips, has allowed for a new way of inter-city movement.”

According to an Uber press release, the program’s first year saw a combined total of $63,770.71 was spent between the five cities, representing a 74 percent increase in Uber trips. During the second phase, more than 185,000 trips took place with a cost of over $330,000 within the 10-month period. The breakdown is as follows:

City Phase II Trips
Altamonte Springs 67,601
Lake Mary 23,169
Longwood 12,804
Maitland   8,331
Sanford 74,243
TOTAL 186,148

“By creating innovative projects like this, we can better serve our residents through direct incentives and find viable, cost-effective mobility solutions for Central Florida,” said Frank Martz, Altamonte Springs City Manager. “By thinking outside the box and going that extra mile for our communities, we have developed a solid model that can act as a framework for future transportation models around the nation.”

Uber and Lyft are both pursuing similar inter-city programs with local governments. Given the utilization and relatively low cost of Uber’s initiative, Florida is likely to see more such programs in the future. The five cities currently participating in the program are already working to develop a more robust discount program for their respective residents.

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